Religion, Employment Law and Pennsylvania
October 20, 2015


Employment Law and Religion

religious accommodations
In some cases, employers are required to provide accommodations for religious beliefs. In some cases, they are not.

Most of us work for a living.  There are those among us who are unable or unqualified to work in certain industries or professions, or those unavailable to work due to other responsibilities and there are some who are independently wealthy and do not need or rely on earned income to maintain their lifestyles and pay their bills.  However, today, in the United States, work and work related activities consume a significant amount of our waking hours and most of us spend large amounts of time with our co-workers, colleagues and supervisory personnel.  As such, our lifestyles become more visible and transparent to our work partners and incorporate not only knowing our marital status and family members, but also being aware of our observances of cultural and religious practices and beliefs.

For example, on Ash Wednesday, the day Lent begins in the Christian Calendar, many observant members of Christian denominations can be recognized by the black ashes which mark their foreheads and remind them of their mortality and the promise of life beyond death.  Our military involvement in the Middle East has expanded our recognition of the physical and prayerful practices of the Muslim religion, and the religious book of the Koran.  These religious practices were not commonly known to the citizens of Middle America, as city life has always provided more religious variety by way of larger and more diverse populations.  However, myriad  countries and cultures located in the Middle East are now widely recognized here, as a result of our media and the sacrifices of our military families, who hail from every part of the United States.  The inclusion of many cultures and religions into the United States have broadened the scope and application of the United States Constitution and its protections to all who come to this land to live and work.

Accommodations for Religion at Work

In light of this landscape, must an employer be required to change (“accommodate”) its’ work rules and regulations in order for an employee to practice and observe their religion and religious beliefs?  In general, if the employer’s business (costs, staffing, liability, etc.) does not suffer an “undue hardship” by permitting the employee to participate and engage in their religious practices or beliefs, the answer would be “Yes” and the employee should be “reasonably accommodated.”  In contrast, if the employee’s request for such religious accommodation would subject the employer to undue burdens (excessive costs, staffing problems, expansive liability, etc.) then, “ No”, the employer is not required to accommodate.

Conclusion

This is a very simplistic explanation of the balancing test that must be employed in determining when the accommodation of religion is required by our laws.  The answer is yes and no and generally relies on applying common sense to the specific factual issues at hand. If you have questions about religious accommodations or other employment law matters, please contact our attorneys for assistance.